If one headline summarizes 2014, it’s the title of this post (I say so in all modesty). It is a multi-purpose headline — one that applies, at a minimum, to Iraq, Syria, and Iran itself.
When it comes to Iraq, no one has stated the facts more clearly than James Jeffrey, who served under President Obama as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2010-2012.
Here, via the Washington Post, is Jeffrey’s account:
James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said the Obama administration may have made a mistake by not conducting limited airstrikes after the Islamic State’s initial advance.
Iraqi officials pleaded for assistance this summer as the militants appeared poised to overrun the Iraqi Kurdish city of Irbil and even Baghdad, the capital. But White House officials, frustrated by what they saw as the sectarian policies of then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, insisted first on political reforms.
“The Iraqis were in desperate straits, and the only ones who came to their rescue was Iran,” Jeffrey said. “These guys will remember that.”
As Jeffrey says, Obama’s rationale for dithering was the “sectarian policies” of the Iraqi government. These policies, we were told, tended to drive ordinary Sunnis into the arms of ISIS. Thus, Obama says he didn’t want to act until Iraq had a new government.
But because Iran filled the void left by Obama’s Iraq policy, it is more influential now than it was last year at this time. This is clear from the Washington Post article cited above.
Thus, although Iraq on paper has a less sectarian government than before, the reality on the ground is that Sunnis probably feel more threatened by Iranian-backed militias, and actual Iranian forces, than they did before. As the Post reports:
Iraq’s Shiite-led government is increasingly reliant on the powerful militias and a massive Shiite volunteer force, which together may now equal the size of Iraq’s security forces.
Nature abhors a vacuum. Obama’s Middle East policy helped create one. ISIS and Iran have filled it.
The only interesting question is whether Obama cares. I see little evidence that he does.